In the new issue of Los Angeles magazine, media columnist RJ Smith offers several suggestions to help the Times survive — "for rescuing a newspaper that deserves to be." He goes for provocative. Not yet online, but here are the highlights:
→ Have more fun to connect with readers, and begin by hiring [ex-Timeser] Nikki Finke: "So the LA Weekly's industry columnist isn't always accurate. So she must be hard on her editor (does she have an editor?) Hedda Hopper got lots of stuff wrong, too. Get over it. Finke has covered Hollywood since the mid-'80s and she hasn't let it beat her down yet."
→ Create and play up a local cast of characters. It's the Donald Trump model: "The New York press revels in this approach: focus on the rich parade of characters among us, designate a handful of personalities, and keep coming back to them." Mayor Villaraigosa, Admiral Brewer and Donald Sterling are suggested.
→ More scribes like Steve Lopez and T.J. Simers, "reporters who are licensed to kill."
→ Educate the Chicago guys about Los Angeles and fast, since the Times is stuck with them.
→ Emphasize what the Times can give local readers they don't get elsewhere, like a deep local news report and local watchdog journalism. Shift more to the Web and slim down the paper product.
By the way, deeper and smarter local coverage doesn't mean leading the entire paper — as the Times did today — with a weak story based on politicians saying they plan to "unveil proposed legislation" to restrict patient dumping by hospitals. If the bills become law, maybe.
Reax: Tom Tapp at Hollywood Wiretap says rather than re-hire Finke, the Times should give blogs to in-house Hollywood scooper Claudia Eller or Patrick Goldstein.
* Finke & her print editor react:
"While I have not seen RJ.'s article. But I've already been a staff writer for the LA Times, so my response is: been there, done that. Besides, I'm way too provocative for that place, and it gets you drop-kicked on your head by editors there. And I'd have to stop referring to the moguls as morons and assholes, so that's no fun. But I do take strong issue with Smith's ridiculous assertion that "she isn't always accurate". (C'mon, RJ, give me even one example. What's that? You can't?) It's just not true, and he knows it. I've been kinda nasty about Los Angeles magazine in recent months. It appears they tried to pay me a compliment but couldn't help themselves and had in store for me a little payback."
LA Weekly Deputy Editor Joe Donnelly emails:
"As at least RJ knows, since he quoted me last time he did a piece on Nikki, she does have an editor, and it's me. I'm pretty sure I play a small role in the success of her column. And you're right, too, that any publication would benefit from her lively writing and reporting. As for the inaccuracies in her column that you refer to (I can't speak to the blog, which I don't edit), do you have any examples? I can't think of any off hand."